Once again, for the umpteenth time in the Democratic presidential primary, there is a dominant narrative in the establishment news media that it is over for Bernie Sanders. News outlets have crunched the numbers, again, and after the loss to Hillary Clinton in New York, conventional wisdom is Sanders cannot win.
"Sanders went from a protest candidate in the Democratic primary to a contender for the nomination. His campaign believed it could win. It still believes it can win."
Such harping is presented as if it is a neutral perspective solely based on mathematics that is not driven by any influence the Clinton campaign may have over media institutions. However, the fact is there are 1,400 pledged delegates left to win in contests. Clinton has 1,442 pledged delegates while Sanders has 1,209 pledged delegates. It’s a lead of 233 pledged delegates, which he could still overcome in June, especially if he continues to surge in California—a state with 475 delegates to be won.
To put it more concisely, Sanders has a path to victory. His campaign is not all but done. It would be all but done if there weren’t over a thousand pledged delegates to be awarded. That is not the case.
Another piece of context missing in most news coverage is that an Emerson College poll had Sanders losing to Clinton by close to fifty points in late March. His campaign surged and managed to win 40 percent of the vote, which was what the campaign saw as a “credibility threshold” they needed to achieve.
Clinton is very well known in New York. The state elected Clinton as their senator twice. Virginia Fields, former borough president for Manhattan and a Clinton surrogate, said on Democracy Now!, “Senator Clinton, in terms of relationships with African Americans in the Latino communities, is much stronger, certainly, than that of Senator Sanders here in the state of New York.” But she won’t necessarily have the same kind of rapport with voters to boost her campaign in the remaining states.
Now, there is a misperception, which has spread since Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver appeared on MSNBC last night. Numerous reports quoted Weaver and suggested the campaign plans to upend the will of voters and flip superdelegates to win the Democratic presidential nomination at the convention in July.
The Washington Post’s Philip Bump—who recently argued the average donation to the Sanders campaign is $28, not $27—wrote, “Sanders supporters loathe the superdelegates, who they fairly see as undemocratic,” and, “Would Sanders’s supporters want to win by acclamation from the undemocratic supers? Some would, sure. But it isn’t what they expected.”
For The Nation, Joan Walsh, an outspoken Clinton supporter, called Weaver’s comments “discouraging” and said flipping superdelegates at the convention “would certainly make the July convention a spectacle, but it’s unlikely to help his candidate win.”
However, what Bump, Walsh, and others seem to misunderstand is Weaver made his comments under the presumption that neither Clinton nor Sanders will meet the 2,383 pledged delegate threshold needed to clinch the nomination before the convention. Both candidates will need to make cases to superdelegates to clinch the nomination. Clinton will have to keep the superdelegates from switching and Sanders will have to find some way to persuade superdelegates to support him over the establishment’s favored candidate.
Clinton and Sanders, as has been the case throughout the primary, will bring a significant attention to the superdelegate system employed by the Democratic Party. The surrogates and supporters for both candidates will inevitably find new reasons to loathe the system by the time the convention is over. Both candidates will wage a kind of information war in the media to convince the population that their strategy respects the will of voters, even as the party elites have their moment to demonstrate how they have more influence as superdelegates.
There is nothing wrong with lobbying superdelegates. Dennis Archer, a superdelegate from Michigan and former mayor of Detroit who supports Clinton, told The Guardian, “I would do the same thing if I were them and I’m not at all offended at them. One would expect that to occur.”
Yet, as numerous people reflect on the Democratic primary the day after the New York primary, why is it offensive to so many liberal and establishment Democrats, particularly those who back Clinton?
When Sanders declared his candidacy, he was cast in the role of pushing Clinton to the left or influencing her on issues so she would become a “better” or “stronger” candidate since she would inevitably be the Democratic nominee. He forced her to declare opposition to the Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline. He forced her to declare opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, even though she lobbied for it as Secretary of State.
By January of this year, the Sanders campaign grew into a formidable force, which could beat her in state primaries. He said in June 2015 if the campaign did well in Iowa and New Hampshire, he’d become a “credible candidate” and a “lot more money” would come in to support the campaign. Sanders performed well in those states and managed to build a fundraising apparatus, which could pull in small-dollar donations that exceeded $1 million each day.
Sanders went from a protest candidate in the Democratic primary to a contender for the nomination. His campaign believed it could win. It still believes it can win. For that reason, every day it continues to function as a competitive alternative to Clinton it is met with disgust from Democratic elites and an establishment, which wants to see the campaign crushed.
After the New York primary, an unnamed senior Clinton aide told POLITICO’s Glenn Thrush, “We kicked his ass tonight,” and, “I hope this convinces Bernie to tone it down. If not, fuck him.” David Axelrod, who worked as a chief strategist for both of Obama’s presidential campaigns, tweeted, “Minutes after Hillary Clinton talks unity, her spokeswoman calls Senator Sanders’ campaign ‘destructive.’ I honestly don’t get it.” David Plouffe, an Obama campaign strategist who endorsed Clinton, accused the Sanders campaign of “fraud” because they sent out fundraising email saying there still was a path to the nomination. Brad Woodhouse, president of the Clinton super PAC, Correct the Record, characterized Sanders as a “spoiler,” even though he has every right to fight for the nomination at the convention as Clinton does.
The Clinton campaign and its network of surrogates and super PACs insists Sanders went “personal and negative,” and that “backfired” on him badly in the state. The truth is, after the Wisconsin primary, it set in motion a plan in New York to “disqualify” Sanders in order to end his win streak. In interviews, the campaign insinuated Sanders was not qualified and provoked Sanders into outlining a number of reasons why she should be considered unqualified. When the Clinton campaign expressed outrage, the Sanders campaign was put in a position where it had to back down, apologize, or continue to face reporters, who would keep raising the issue of her “qualifications.” It was a perfect, yet sleazy way of stunting Sanders’ surge in New York.
"It is premature to grapple with how the movement around the campaign can continue after the campaign is over when it frankly is not over yet."
Another sleazy line of attack involved gun control and the claim that the “highest per capita number” of guns used in crimes in New York came from Vermont, and, therefore, the senator from Vermont, who is running for president, bears some responsibility for violent crime. Not a bit of this attack on Sanders was correct. The Washington Post gave Clinton “three Pinocchios” for crafting a talking point deliberately intended to leave voters with a misleading impression.
CNN’s Wolf Blitzer asked Clinton during a debate in Brooklyn, “Are you seriously blaming Vermont, and implicitly Senator Sanders, for New York’s gun violence?” Clinton said, “No, of course not. Of course not,” which prompted Sanders to laugh at her denial. She then said, “It’s not a laughing matter,” and painted him as someone who would push the National Rifle Association’s agenda as president, even though he takes many of the same positions on gun control as she does. Then, Correct the Record pushed campaign propaganda into the media suggesting Sanders thought gun violence was a “laughing matter.”
The campaign even pit Sanders against families whose loved ones were slaughtered in the Sandy Hook massacre and reveled in the fact that he was being asked to apologize for a massacre he was not responsible for at all. It falsely suggested Sanders believed the families had no right to sue the manufacturer of the AR-15 semi-automatic rifle used by Adam Lanza. Meanwhile, the Clinton campaign said nothing about how the State Department under Clinton signed off on a $4.2 million arms deal with the manufacturer, Remington Arms Company.
Former President Bill Clinton joked on April 15 that young Sanders supporters would “shoot every third person on Wall Street” if Sanders was elected. Of course, if anyone finds this funny, it is because they believe Sanders has left-wing supporters who would only be satisfied with Wall Street reform that involved murdering corporate executives responsible for fraud and other forms of corruption.
The establishment news media—in service to the Clinton campaign—has patronized Sanders as if he was a marginal candidate, even when he won state primaries. “Will you support Hillary?” “Will you tell your supporters to vote for Hillary?” “Will you make sure the Democratic Party can unify in November?” “Will you tone it down?” “Will you reconsider repeatedly pointing out how Clinton is a corporate Democrat because it is disrespectful?”
But Sanders and his campaign have no interest in playing the part of protest candidate, especially because talking like Sanders does not mean Clinton will follow through on the rhetoric she deploys to prevent her campaign from dwindling. It also is premature to grapple with how the movement around the campaign can continue after the campaign is over when it frankly is not over yet. The Sanders campaign is in the midst of a war for a nomination that will give voters a viable alternative to two oligarchs in November, and it is not about to quit now.